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Online Program Saves Money, Gains Prestige




When prospective students consider earning their Master of Advanced Study in Criminology, Law and Society their greatest reservation is always the same: Will the degree say âonline?â



The assistant Director of MAS Adrianna Lopez always says the degree will look exactly like an on-campus one. And the studentâs fears are gone.



The program is now preparing for its ten year anniversary celebration on March 12 and it is considered a model in a time when higher education is more fiscally endangered than ever. MAS is cheaper for students, administratively cost-effective and well-respected in the professional world. Such attributes are increasingly prompting other schools on campus and throughout the UC system to begin developing online programs.



MAS began over a decade ago with a $450,000 loan for development costs associated with the online program. MAS Director Dr. Henry Pontell said the loan saved the program âmillions of dollars.â



Pontell said that the Executive Vice Channcellorâs office took a risk with the loan. But he was still confident.



He said quote: âThey said it was a worthy experiment.â



The loan was repaid in three years and MAS now runs a budget surplus. Last yearâs ran at over $298 thousand dollars. Half is kept in the program; half is sent to Office of the Dean of Social Ecology Extra revenue kept in Criminology, Law and Society is used to fund several doctoral candidates and faculty research.



Despite its low cost, the two-year program isnât run entirely online. It begins with a one week, face-to-face class in early September, where students are acquainted with faculty and each other. From there, they are required to take two online courses each quarter for six quarters.



The program does not offer multiple choice exams. Instead, students generally complete written exams and papers. Like many on-campus courses, students also post messages on discussion boards related to any required reading throughout the quarter.



One reason for the face-to-face interaction in September is to help prevent plagiarism, which is a serious concern for many online degree programs. Lopez contends MASâ rate of academic dishonesty is low, commensurate with levels seen at the physical campus.



By the end of the week-long program âyou already have an idea about the studentâs background, how they write and their education level,â Lopez said. Such familiarity makes it easy to catch students who may turn in work they didnât produce. And the program is small. It has 64 students this year, up from 17 in its first year.



Many of the programâs students have gone on to successful careers in the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and local police forces, among other places. (One alumnus, Gerald Roy, is a high-ranking official in the United States Health and Human Services Department.)



The program is mostly filled with working professionals. Some have been out of academia for decades and seek promotions or new opportunities that come with an advanced degree.



Current MAS student Robert Clendening said he was ânervousâ about getting back into academia after being away for over 20 years, but that the program was designed to accommodate students like him, who manage full-time work on top of their classes.



And for students working, thereâs little time for technical errors.



There were âa few glitches but nothing earth shattering,â Clendening said, describing the online program.



Christine Champion, an MAS alumna and current PhD candidate at UC Irvine, said the programâs students maintained a relationship with the technical director, whom they met during the one week in-person classes.



Given the programâs high demands the support is critical, and likely a reason for the programâs 93 percent graduation rate.



The program is now being used as a model at UC Irvine â and potentially across the UC system.



Lopez said that Many campuses and programs have inquired about the model.



Pharmacology Professor Dr. Diana Krause described the MAS program as âa pioneer in the online approach.â



âThe Department of Pharmacology is currently working with Graduate Dean Frances Leslie and her office to develop our proposal for a self-supporting online Masters in Pharmacology program,â she said.



And now, 10 years in, Dr. Pontell is nothing but proud of the model he and his team created.



Looking back, he said, the biggest challenge was overcoming skepticism that some faculty and committees had in online programs.



âThe New York City thing really came in handy,â he said. âI had to do a lot of talking.â



From the Social Ecology building, Adam OâNeal, KUCI News



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